Dr. Patricia Valenti's newest book on Nathaniel Hawthorne's wife shatters long-held held beliefs about the author and the woman who profoundly influenced his life and art.
Dr. Valenti's book, "Sophia Peabody Hawthorne: A Life, Volume 1, 1809-1847," holds the lives of Hawthorne and his wife up to the light of modern scholarship.
Dr. Valenti has studied Hawthorne and his family for most of her academic career. In her second book on the first family of American literature, she offers fresh insight into the private side of the author's life.
An English professor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Dr. Valenti, is an outstanding scholar and teacher, winning the 2004 UNC Board of Governor's Award for Teaching Excellence. She has been on the faculty at UNCP since 1984.
Dr. Valenti's first book, "To Myself a Stranger: A Biography of Rose Hawthorne Lathrope," is about Hawthorne's daughter. As a convert to Catholicism and originator of the hospice movement, Rose established herself as one of the most important women of the late 19th century.
Dr. Valenti's work is no mere revision of scholarly truths. It is an explosion of the historical perception of Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
"She was 32 when they married, so there was this other life that she lived," Dr. Valenti said. "There are thousands of pages of letters and journals to draw from."
"Sophia has never been seriously studied," Dr. Valenti said. "The only way we knew about her was the way her husband described her."
Sophia Peabody Hawthorne is known almost exclusively in her role as the wife of Nathaniel, who portrayed her as the fragile, ethereal, infirm "Dove." The image invented by Nathaniel served his needs but the reality was very different from fiction.
Dr. Valenti's research reveals an independent, sensuous and daring woman. Sophia was an accomplished artist before her marriage to Nathaniel, and she ignited Nathaniel's imagination.
"She changed the way he thought," Dr. Valenti said. "It was not acknowledged, but people now recognize the marital relationship and the influence of a wife on her husband. Look at Nancy and Ronald Reagan."
In "Sophia Peabody Hawthorne," Dr. Valenti places the story of Sophia's life within its own context, as well as within the context of her marriage. Dr. Valenti begins the book with parallel biographies of Sophia and Nathaniel at comparable periods in their lives.
Sophia was born into a progressive home, in which women played strong roles. She was an ambitious and talented student, who aspired to become a professional painter.
While an 18-month journey to Cuba was a watershed event in the young Sophia's life, by comparison, Nathaniel's travels took him as far as Niagara Falls, Dr. Valenti said.
Nathaniel's early life contrast sharply with the experience of the worldly woman who became his wife. Those differences resulted in a creative tension that inspired his best writing during the first years of their marriage.
Volume I of Dr. Valenti's biography concludes with the birth of their second child. The book also offers fresh interpretations of Nathaniel Hawthorne's fiction, examining it through the filter of Sophia's personality. Students and scholars of American literature, literary theory, feminism and cultural history will find much to enrich their understanding of this woman and the era.
The publication of the first volume coincides with the bicentennial celebration of Nathaniel Hawthorne's birth on July 4, 2004. Dr. Valenti, who is a consultant on the Hawthorne Museum in Salem, Mass., will be on hand for four days of festivities.
Dr. Valenti hopes the second volume will be published on the bicentennial of Sophia's birth in 2009.The author said her job in the second volume is to carry the reader to the deaths of Nathaniel and Sophia.
"Sophia Peabody Hawthorne: A Life, Volume 1, 1809-1847"(0-8262-1528-9, $44.95 cloth) is available at local bookstores or directly from the University of Missouri Press. Individuals placing orders should include $4 shipping and handling for the first book and $1 for each additional book. For further publicity information contact Beth Chandler, University of Missouri Press, 2910 LeMone Boulevard, Columbia, Mo., 65201.